Cancer : Cervical Cancer Awareness

Jacqui Boyle, Hamilton JournalNews, Ohio

Each year, cervical cancer affects about 13,000 women in the United States, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. It is the second most common type of cancer for women across the globe, but it also is one of the most preventable types of cancer, according to the NCCC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations continue to release new studies on cervical cancer. This month, the CDC released results of a study that found that many women who have undergone a total hysterectomy and no longer have a cervix are still getting Pap tests for cervical cancer even though they don't need to be screened.

January marks Cervical Health Awareness Month. As organizations continue to focus on cervical cancer research, prevention and treatment, we asked Dr. Robert P. Flick, medical director of OB/GYN services for Mercy Health -- West Gynecology, located in Cincinnati -- whose areas of expertise include pelvic pain, disorders of the cervix and menopausal changes -- to tell you what you need to know about cervical cancer.

Q: Who is most likely to get cervical cancer?

A: There are a variety of age groups and a variety of risk factors that make a woman more susceptible to cervical cancer. Some of these include: having multiple sexual partners; having a sexual partner who has multiple sexual partners; having first had sexual intercourse at a young age (younger than 18); smoking; having sexually transmitted diseases; having a compromised immune system. Given the risk factors, we tend to see more abnormal pap smears in younger individuals, but cervical cancer can strike women of any age.

Q: What are the causes of cervical cancer?

A: Cervical cancer is associated with sexually transmitted diseases, specifically human papillomavirus (HPV). There are a number of subtypes of HPV. Some are high risk, and some are not so high risk.

Q: What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

A: Often, symptoms don't occur until later in the progression of the illness, but warning signs include abnormal bleeding, spotting and watery discharge from the vagina. If you have any of these symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your gynecologist right away.

Q: How is a person diagnosed with cervical cancer?

A: We prefer patients to come for regular annual Pap smears. If the Pap smear comes back positive, or abnormal, we proceed with a colposcopy. This enables us to look at the cervix that's been painted with a vinegar solution with a special, high-powered microscope called a colposcope. If we see any suspicious areas, we biopsy them to determine if they are, in fact, cancerous cells.

Q: What are the treatment options for cervical cancer?

A: It depends on the degree of cell invasion. If the cervical cancer has not spread, we can take a conservative approach, such as performing a cold knife conization, which is a surgical procedure to remove a sample of abnormal tissue from the cervix, or a hysterectomy. For cervical cancer that has spread, it depends on where it has spread. If the cancer has invaded within the cervix or adjacent organs, we may use a combination of surgical treatment, radiation, and/or chemotherapy to treat the patient."

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